May 12, 2009
Quite a few people remember Moses Malone's semi-guarantee of "Fo', fo', fo';" given before the 1983 playoffs. What a lot of people don't remember is that Moses' 76ers team actually went "fo', fi', fo'" on its way to a ring, and that the first two syllables of that quote came in what was a truncated (compared to the modern NBA) run toward the Finals.
Back then, you had first-round byes, or best-of five series' should you miss out on the bye. By the next season, no pun intended, every team had to go through an opening-round best-of five.
So, while Cleveland's recent dash toward a 12-0 in-conference run to the Finals might eventually rank them amongst the all-time greats, it doesn't quite compare with what those Sixers had to deal with, and not in a bad way. Beyond that, we thought we'd look at the best conference play in the years since Moses' championship run.
1. 1985-86 Boston Celtics
A small part of me wanted to put the third-place outfit ahead of these C's (and the second team on this list), based solely on the fact that Boston did drop a game, and could have dropped Game 2 of the opening round series against Chicago. But, come on. The sheer amount of talent this team had to dispatch on its way to the Finals? It's sickening. A proper ranking, for a proper, all-time, team. Bow down.
2. 1995-96 Chicago Bulls
But they never had a center! They never had a center! Kareem, Parish, Shaq ... they would have destroyed Luc Longley!
Alonzo Mourning(notes), Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O'Neal(notes). 11-1. The only reason this team is ranked in second place is because, as a bit of an anorak when it comes to the 1995-96 Bulls, I can tell you that (due to nagging injuries to Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc), Chicago wasn't playing its best basketball during this time of year. Like it mattered.
3. 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers
History compels me to admit that the Lakers moped through a healthy chunk of the season. The team dealt with a little back-and-forth between Kobe Bryant(notes) and Phil Jackson after Phil passed along a few iffy rumors he'd heard about Kobe's martyr'ish run as a high school player, and the entire team passed on playing defense until Derek Fisher(notes) returned with a month to go in the regular season. They also employed Isaiah Rider.
Of course, after mid-March, they also looked as good as any basketball team I've ever seen. Ever, ever, ever.
4. 1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers
The talent, in this conference, that the Lakers had to run through? Only to meet the Celtics? This team was so, so good; and rarely recognized despite all the star power.
5. 1990-91 Chicago Bulls
This team came out hungry, it destroyed a Knicks team on the verge of becoming a championship contender, had no issues with a 76ers outfit led by Charles Barkley, and took the heart from what turned out to be a classless Detroit Pistons team in the Eastern finals.
Also considered: 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers, 1984-85 Los Angeles Lakers, 1999 San Antonio Spurs